Gladiator Tombstone Complains About Bad Refs 1800 Years Ago

For most sports fans the worst that could happen when a referee makes a bad call during a game is that your team would lose. However in the days of the ancient Gladiators a bad call by the “summa rudis” (referee) could mean death.
According to Carter, most gladiatorial bouts weren't necessarily meant to be played to the death, although fatal wounds were all too common. He argues that there were some fairly specific rules in place for the fights. One key aspect of the fights was submission, in which the vanquished gladiator could appeal to the patron of the fight for mercy, and if approved could then leave the arena. That's along the same basic lines as the famous "thumbs up"/"thumbs down" decision at the end of a gladiatorial fight, which is the one "rule" you almost always see in movie depictions of the fights.


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There was no “thumbs up”/”thumbs down” in ancient Rome. That's Hollywood nonsense.
There was thumbs turned (lat. Pollice verso or verso pollice).
From the historical and literary record it is uncertain whether the thumb was turned up, turned down, held horizontally, or concealed inside the hand to indicate positive or negative opinions.
Desmond Morris said that the "tumbs down" motion was the thumb motion representing the plying of a sword. So from afar it would look like "tumbs down".
The notion of the pollice verso thumb signal was brought to popular attention by an 1872 painting by French history painter Jean-Léon Gérôme titled Pollice Verso (
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